Mammograms and ashes

mammogram-clip-art_595I walked 14 blocks to get my mammogram today, which is, by the way, February 13, the day before Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday.

Nothing happened at the clinic that was out of the ordinary, except Keli, my boob-smashing technician, did seem overly worried about my discomfort. “Is this more difficult for you than usual?” “Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?” “Are you going to be OK?” I sort of laughed, at least, I felt like I sort of laughed, but, you know, when you are leaned over just a little at the waist, with your chin up, looking over your shoulder, right breast pulled up, spread out, then pancaked between two plates that get screwed down tighter… tighter… and just a little bit tighter — well, I imagine my hahaha sounded more like: AH!AH!AH!

I did try to reassure Keli, I told her, nothing more painful than usual, but you, know, not something I look forward to. But seriously, she acted like I was acting like a big baby, that all the other women who come in and get their boobs smashed take it like they’re having a picnic in the park. Or maybe they really do laugh, and tell jokes, and gossip about the Grammys.

It is always a traumatic experience for me. The feeling-me-up part. The boob smashing part. Even the sitting around with other patients in the in-between area, we all have lost our business suit jackets and we’re sitting around in these blousey, pastel, one-snap, open-in-the-front tops, boobs flapping in the wind, so to speak. I always try to make small talk but it usually doesn’t go over very well. It’s humbling, even to the point of being humiliating, I think. Fondling our “love pillows” and putting them through the wringer. Literally. (I always wonder what men would think if they had to have it done to their penises.)

And it always comes up with either the groper or the smasher, that I had a biopsy a few years back and still have a metal flag implanted in the questionable area. “You know, they could feel that last year when they did your exam,” groper lady said. “It’s in your chart.” So, yeah, the thought of it being something more than an uncomfortable 30 minutes, that always dances on to center stage at some point. This year, the woman who did the exam, gave me her all-clear — “well, at least I didn’t feel anything abnormal” — and then pointed out the age/breast cancer chart. At my age, it’s one in 50. At the age of 80, it’s like one in five. I nervously joked that if I make it to 80, I probably won’t have breasts. She laughed and said, “That’s right.”

On the walk back to work, I thought about the act that had just been perpetrated on my breasts. Wondered how that could be OK for them, to be twisted, stretched, lifted, pulled, pressed with a pressurized vise.

Poor things.

Then I saw something I could hardly believe. There on the corner of 8th and Bannock in downtown Boise was a sign: ASHES TO GO. An Episcopal minister — a woman — was there at the ready with a bowl of ashes. I walked up to her, took my sunglasses off, closed my eyes. She crossed my forehead and said: “From ashes you came, to ashes you will return.”

Somehow, that made everything OK.

Can’t wait for Valentines Day.


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